While known for the “summer camp” vibe of Guerneville and environs, Sonoma County has grown into a year-round gay and lesbian destination that mixes upscale wine country living with rural charm.
Less than 30 miles north of San Francisco, Sonoma County includes the rugged coast, the celebrated wine country, historic towns and quaint villages. Wine tasting is a top draw, as are spa getaways, sophisticated dining, world-class lodgings, golf and more.
Guerneville, along the Russian River, continues to be a hotspot for fun. The friendly town boasts gay and lesbian bars along its strip, as well as hotels, campgrounds and B&Bs.
Sonoma County offers great activities outside the Russian River area. Wine tasting at one of the more than 300 wineries is popular, as Sonoma County is known for its excellent wines and casual approach to enjoying them. Often the person offering you a taste of the wine is the winemaker herself.
Just north of San Francisco, gay and gay-friendly accommodations abound. Luxury resorts like the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, Doubletree Hotel Sonoma Wine Country, Applewood Inn, Gaige House Innand the Vintners Inn offer high-end amenities.
The Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa and Hilton Sonoma Wine Countryoffer centrally located convenience, and the Sheraton Sonoma County - Petaluma has its own marina. Bed & Breakfasts are found in scenic hamlets and the coast. In Guerneville, the Fern Grove Cottages, the Highlands Resort, the Woods Resort, and Russian River Resort are among the places to go. Monte Rio boasts gay-owned Village Inn and Rio Villa Beach Resort.
When hotels and resorts get full, cabin rentals are a good option. Accommodation information can be found at www.sonomacounty.com.
Wine Tasting: World-class wines that consistently garner awards sampled in a friendly, welcoming setting are common to the wine scene in Sonoma County.
Spas: Unique and luxurious spa experiences abound, with wine-country variations using locally grown products like wine, grapes, honey and more for facial and skin treatments.
Dining: Innovative cuisine meets a commitment to fine locally grown and produced products like cheeses, meats, wines, produce and more.
Coast: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was filmed in Bodega Bay, but you don’t need to be a movie buff to enjoy fresh crab, great food and breathtaking scenery.
Redwoods: The Russian River is more than just gay bars and resorts, as towering redwoods offer quiet walks and cool relief from summer heat. Hiking, biking and kayaking are the order of the day.
Gay and Lesbian Events:
SFPride: One of the world’s largest pride parades and parties takes place less than 30 miles south of Sonoma County in San Francisco. Spend some time in Sonoma’s wineries, check out the Russian River resort area or just chill amongst the redwoods before and after Pride Weekend. www.sfpride.org. June.
Lazy Bear Weekend: For Bears and their fans, this week-long “weekend” celebration features nightly parties, campfires, river fun and more. Spread over multiple venues in the Russian River area. www.castrobear.com. August.
Russian River Food and Wine Fest: Celebrating the bounty of Sonoma County, the Food and Wine Fest is a seasonal highlight. Locally made artisan cheeses, chef demonstrations, cookbook signings and anything food related make this a must-see. www.russianriverfoodandwinefest.com. September.
Women’s Weekend: Hot pool parties, bumpin' night life, dancing, craft fair, dining, motorcycle run, auction, live music, camping, shows, contests, seminars. www.rrwomensweekend.com. May and September.
Direct flights to Wine Country from Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego (beginning June 5, 2012), and Seattle on Alaska Air. Nearby international airports are San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento.
On the Web
www.sonomacounty.com is the official tourism website of the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau
http://inside-sonoma.com/glbt is Sonoma County's official gay travel blog.
www.gayrussianriver.com shows off everything gay in and around Guerneville and the Russian River
www.russianrivertravel.com is an excellent website for general Russian River travel information
www.gaysonoma.com is an online guide for news, events, personals, and local businesses
Follow @gaysonomacounty and @SonomaCoPride on Twitter for the most up-to-date event, activity and travel information.
For a free visitors guide or information on hotels, wineries, events, spas, attractions, and dining in Sonoma County, visit www.sonomacounty.com or call (800) 576-6662.
(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)
Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Sonoma County and the rest of the North Coast can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.
“Margarita and I have admired this property for a long time,” says Clay Shannon. “The Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet are a great fit for our Shannon Ridge Family of Wines, and our flock of 1,000 sheep have always thought that the grass seemed just a little bit greener on the other side of that fence.” The vineyard will be renamed Betsy’s Vineyard, paying tribute to Clay Shannon’s mother, who passed away from cancer. “It’s nice to think that her memory will live on in this vineyard and wines,” Shannon says.
The High Valley Vineyard wines will be expanded into national distribution. “We really believe in Lake County and the quality that we can deliver in the bottle,” says Clay Shannon. “So purchasing this vineyard and these wines was just another way to confirm our commitment to the region.”
“As we take these wines into national distribution, we’ll dedicate a portion of the proceeds to fight cancer,” says Margarita Shannon. “That’s something very close to our hearts, and it has affected so many people. We want to do something to make a difference.” The Shannons also support Sponsoring Survivorship, a non-profit organization for women in Lake County struggling against breast cancer.
The portfolio of award-winning Shannon Ridge wines includes the Single Vineyard Collection and Ranch Collection, as well as affiliated brands Vigilance, Hillgate, Dos Brotos, Dalliance, Cross Springs, and now High Valley Vineyard. Shannon Ridge’s vineyards are certified sustainable, and are known for their woolly compost machines – a flock of 1,000 sheep, complete with shepherd and a team of highly trained sheepdogs. The sheep do an excellent job of canopy management and leaf removal, and pick the vineyard clean after harvest. They also manage the cover crop in the spring and work hard to reduce fire danger in the surrounding hills the remainder of the year.
About Shannon Ridge Family of WinesClay and Margarita Shannon are committed to preserving their land, not only for the great vineyard sites but also for the bear, elk, mountain lions, eagles and other creatures which live there. Of the approximately 1,400 acres on the ranch, only about 35% have been converted to vineyards. The balance of the land has been preserved for the wildlife which wanders through the property from the expansive wilderness area to the north and east. The vineyards were carefully planned out, leaving corridors open to migrating animals and protecting sensitive nesting areas.
Editor's note: Visitors to Lake County and other parts of the North Coast wine country will find links to the websites of wineries there, as well as hundreds of links to hundreds of lodging and dining options, at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.
Twelve of the top twenty-one Napa Valley wines this year (including four of the top-rated wines) were made with fruit grown by grape growers who do not make wine. These top-rated wines were a combination of an independent grape grower and a demanding winemaker, working together to make great wines—the greatest wines in America, in fact, according to the Wine Spectator.
“There is a sea change in the California wine business,” says Andy Beckstoffer, a grape grower whose grapes are the source of seven of the top twenty-one wines. “The idea that a single estate will always make the best wine is simply outdated. Today, some of the best wines are being grown by independent growers who don’t make wine. We focus all of our attention on growing really good grapes. Then we get those grapes into the hands of winemakers who know how to make great wine. Four of our winery clients were in these top wines." That’s in contrast to the older European system, where a single property owner grows the grapes and bottles the wine on the estate. Many California wineries have followed that example, but it may not lead to the best wines.
“There has always been a tradition of independent growers in California, from Martha’s to Sangiacomo Vineyards,” says Beckstoffer. “But today’s top grape growers are clearly gaining the edge. We are producing fruit that stands alone at the top of the rankings by the top publications. If you want to make truly great wine, you need to start with great grapes. With fifty percent of the vineyards in the Napa Valley in the hands of growers, those grapes will likely come from an independent grower.”
The impressive wines are not only recognized by the Wine Spectator. A recent article in the Wine Advocate had similar results for wines made from independent growers, including top ratings for wines made with Beckstoffer’s fruit.
About Beckstoffer Vineyards:
Beckstoffer Vineyards owns and farms over 3,600 acres of highest quality grape growing properties in three Northern California winegrowing regions – Napa Valley, Mendocino County and the Red Hills of Lake County. The company’s commitment to excellence, innovation and to its people is a benchmark for the industry as a whole and a testament to Andy Beckstoffer’s vision, his belief in the future of the industry, and in the community in which he and his family have established such strong roots. In 2010, Andy Beckstoffer was elected into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame, the first grower to be honored with this prestigious wine industry award.
Editor's note: Links to the websites of Napa Valley wineries, as well as hundreds of lodging and dining options in the North Coast, can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.